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A woman claims she was accused of human trafficking by customs officials because she and her daughter have different last names

INSIDER logoINSIDER 7/10/2018 sheller@thisisinsider.com (Susanna Heller)

a woman posing in front of a building: sylvia and sybonea © Provided by Business Insider Inc sylvia and sybonea Courtesy of Sylvia Acosta

  • Last week, Sylvia Acosta returned home to Texas after a 10-day long trip to Europe.
  • But at customs, Acosta and her daughter Sybonea Acosta-Castillo were extensively questioned by an agent.
  • Acosta said the customs agent accused her of human trafficking because she and her 15-year-old daughter don't have the same last name.
  • It was an intense ordeal for both women, they told INSIDER.
  • In a Facebook post describing the ordeal that has since gone viral, Acosta described the situation as something out of "The Handmaid's Tale."

After a 10-day educational trip through Europe, Sylvia Acosta was looking forward to returning home to Texas. But when she arrived at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday, things didn't exactly go as planned.

When Acosta and her daughter Sybonea Acosta-Castillo, 15, tried to go through customs, they were extensively questioned by a customs agent, they told INSIDER.

Although they had all the necessary documents needed for international travel, Acosta claims the customs agent didn't believe that Acosta's daughter was her child because the women didn't have the same last names on their passports. 

Acosta told INSIDER she told the agent that she kept her maiden name for professional reasons. Still, the agent questioned why she didn't take her husband's last name, for the sake of convenience, Acosta said.

But when Acosta explained that she was divorced and remarried, the agent seemed skeptical. Acosta claims that the customs agent then accused her of human trafficking.

According to Acosta, the agent repeatedly asked the women for additional documents to prove their relation to each other. However, women did not have the documents on hand, as they had been traveling. 

"Everything was fine. We had our passports. We should have just been allowed to go through, but then he started giving us a hard time because of the fact that I had Castillo as my last name," Acosta-Castillo said. The teen's legal last name is Castillo, although she goes by Acosta-Castillo, she told INSIDER.

And just when the women thought they were going to be able to go home, the agent sent them "to the back" for further questioning where they were "lectured" by a group of agents, Acosta said. Agents repeatedly asked why Acosta didn't just take her husband's last name. 

While they were being held, Acosta, who is the CEO of the country's largest YWCA in El Paso, Texas, questioned the agents' motives.

"Are you saying that I'm a human trafficker because I don't have the same last name as my daughter?" she told INSIDER she asked the officers. "Are you penalizing me as a woman because I did not take my husband's last name? Are you penalizing me because I chose to keep my name? Are you penalizing me because I chose to get a doctorate ... What I'm saying is that I'm a woman and that you're penalizing me because I chose to keep my name." 

After some time and continued questioning, the women were allowed to go.

When she returned home, Acosta took to Facebook where she detailed the situation in a now-viral Facebook post. She described the ordeal as something out of "The Handmaid's Tale." 

In her post, Acosta noted that the whole situation was "perpetuating an institutionalized misogynistic system which required that a woman take her husband's name."

In the days following the incident, she's had time to ruminate on what happened.

"I think institutions need to understand that they can't impose normative behaviors on everybody and that if a woman chooses to keep her name that should not automatically put her on a human trafficking list," she told INSIDER. "I think there need to be other indicators for that."

She also believes that feminism and motherhood behavior aren't one-size-fits-all in 2018. 

"I think all agencies need to understand that we are no longer living in the 1950s and that women make choices every day. One of the choices that they may make is to keep their maiden name, and to have children, and to have those children and name them after their father or create new names — or whatever it may be."

A representative for US Customs and Border Protection didn't immediately return INSIDER's request for comment.

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